The OneFPA Network Consultants Report

Let’s talk once more about the OneFPA Network initiative.  If you want to see what I’ve written so far on what I believe to be the most impactful initiative since the CFP Lite initiative, you can go to: http://www.bobveres.com/category/bob-veres-blog/   and http://www.bobveres.com/bob-veres-blog/onefpa-network-revisited/ .  You can see Michael Kitces’s report here: https://www.kitces.com/blog/fpas-onefpa-network-proposal-does-fpa-need-the-new-chapters-or-the-new-national-instead/.

When I asked FPA leaders if I could see a consultants’ report that was prominently mentioned on the timeline leading up to the OneFPA Network initiative (scroll down to “The OneFPA Journey” from this link: https://www.onefpanetwork.org/why-onefpa-network), I was told that, well, actually there were several reports, and nobody could remember any particular one, or what organization wrote it.  I asked several times, and the bottom line is that the referenced report was not forthcoming.

Of course, I wanted to see if the consulting organization had recommended the core part of the OneFPA Network initiative: the dissolution of the chapters as distinct entities.  And I wanted to see if the consulting organization’s research pointed to this as a solution to the FPA’s operational challenges.

I’m pleased to report that the FPA has now released a copy of “Financial Planning Association Alliance Forum Chapters Operations Assessment,” dated (as the timeline also had it) April, 2014.  The report (https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/fdfb7d_1072f8c581c44be99170776589829cd8.pdf) was authored by an organization called the Executive Wisdom Institute.

The authors began their assessment by collecting feedback, not from all FPA chapter leaders, but from the leaders of chapter members of the Alliance Forum—basically the 12 largest FPA chapters.  It says at the front that “we expect that much of the information gleaned from this assessment can be extrapolated and applied to FPA’s 81 other chapters.”  I found myself questioning whether the largest chapters would, in fact, speak to the needs of all the other chapters—or in fact if they ever intended to.

The research consisted of a lengthy survey instrument sent both to chapter leaders and to National board members and staff, and it also alludes to some telephone group interviews.  This was all designed to uncover four “core system dynamics:” the strategic, leadership, governance and resource dynamics driving the FPA from a national and chapter standpoint.

As you’ll see if you click on the link, the report talks in very general terms about the importance of coherence in any organization, and how operational effectiveness across the Alliance Forum chapters might be improved if there were more and better communication between volunteer leaders and National staff and board.

Here’s what jumped out at me after reading through the authors’ conclusions and the results of the survey a few times over.

Page 6: “The chapters say they are being informed of National’s strategic direction, but not involved in its development.”

This suggests that chapter leaders wish they at least had more notice of National’s initiatives before they were implemented.  Reading between the lines, the chapters would welcome any effort to broaden decision-making at the national level, to involve chapter leaders.

The OneFPA Network initiative does indeed call for more broad-based involvement of chapter leaders in the strategic decision-making of the organization.  Here’s an improvement that the FPA’s national leaders could be making immediately, without requiring the chapters to dissolve their independent status.

But perhaps national could improve the way the initiative is currently designed.  Instead of having chapter leaders serve as minority members of various new committees, with the majority votes still residing with national leadership, chapter leaders could be given real power in making policy at the national level.

Page 12: “Whether FPA’s current chapter structure is the most effective structure to serve FPA’s organizational purpose is beyond the scope of this assessment.”

Hmmm.  The purpose of the study so prominently cited as a driver of the initiative to dissolve the independent chapters was not, in fact, to assess whether this would be a good idea for the FPA to pursue.  I wonder: whose idea was it to cite this study as a major part of the timeline for the OneFPA Network initiative?

Page 13: “Chapters Value Autonomy, Acknowledge Benefit of Greater Coordination.”  “While chapters seem somewhat wary of coordination, they recognize its value, especially with National, to the overall effectiveness of FPA…. But they also feel that their current level of decision-making autonomy is appropriate, and want to maintain it.”

The FPA leadership is telling the chapters that THEY (the chapters) are the drivers for a change in the structure of the FPA.  But the feedback from chapter leaders seems to have been exactly the opposite.  Instead, the report says that National is the driving force behind requesting this change, in the clearest possible language: “National believes that a higher level of National/chapter coordination is essential for a consistent stand and messaging on policy issues in the best interest of the financial planning profession.”  Not the chapters; the National board and staff.

Page 14: “In the area of sponsorships… some chapters currently experience National and encroaching on their territory.”  “Chapters perceive that at times National makes decisions that impact the chapters without first consulting them.”

One concern with the OneFPA Network initiative is that the national home office will begin to usurp the sponsorship relationships that have been carefully built up, locally, over many years.  Right there in the report, we are told that the chapters were concerned about this actually taking place four years ago.

If I were on the board of a local chapter, before any changes are made to the current governance structure, I would request a very strong written agreement that the local sponsorship arrangements will not be impacted in any way.

Page 17: “Chapter and National appear to hold differing perceptions of who is in the lead and who is in a supporting role…”  “Chapters believe they by far provide more value than national to FPA members…”  “There is some lingering institutional memory of perceived heavy-handedness from National to chapters, which contributes to mistrust…”

There is no confusion in my mind that the chapters provide the overwhelming percentage of value to FPA members, and on a budget of less than a third (at most) of what National is provided out of annual dues.  Apparently the chapter leaders saw it that way too, and rather than asking for National to become more involved in their affairs, they actually expressed mistrust of National’s intentions.

How did the national leadership manage to spin this report into an initiative that would increase the home office’s involvement in chapter affairs?

Page 19: “Both chapters and National would benefit from greater website coordination.”  “Chapters would appreciate better, more proactive support in membership database management.”

Here is an area where the FPA home office could clearly, positively impact the lives of chapter coordinators and volunteer members.  Why didn’t the FPA’s national leadership immediately implement better technical support for chapters—right then, rather than, four years later, trying to get the chapters to swallow an initiative that includes the dissolution of independent chapter entities?  I sincerely hope that offering more technology help is not merely a carrot to lure chapters into giving up their independent charters.

The report offers a number of recommendations: create new task forces with chapter leaders and chapter executives included; make it mandatory for chapter leaders to attend the Chapter Leaders Conference; have National create training programs at chapter locations and create a best-practices handbook focused on things related to the chapter executive roles; give the chapter leaders a greater role in the FPA’s strategic planning; and standardize the roles and responsibilities of the chapter executive, who functions as the staff of the local chapter.

I also looked into the appendices to see the actual responses to the surveys, and on page 16 of the appendix, We find the question: “With the best interest of FPA as a whole in mind, assess the ideal level of autonomy (independent decision making authority) of your chapter to national.”

It’s a great question.  The answers?  Every board executive, and ten of the 12 board leaders, said that the autonomy was currently at an appropriate level.  Two board leaders said it should be decreased.  In other words, there was no push to change the autonomy of the local chapters from the chapter leaders themselves.  Quite the opposite, from the plain language of the consultant’s research.

The National leaders (both board and staff) were also in agreement, but in the opposite direction.  They said that the autonomy level of the chapters should be decreased.

So I’m wondering again: who is driving the OneFPA Network initiative?  We are being told over and over again by the national board that the chapters are the strong advocates behind it.  But I’m having trouble finding any evidence of this in the FPA’s actual consultant’s report.  In fact, it seems to be saying exactly the opposite.

Finally, page 20, the chapter leaders of 12 different chapter were asked: “If there were up to 2 things you could change in your agreements or relationship with National, what would they be?”

The top answers from local chapter board executives:

1) Timely communications (BEFORE the event/changes need to be implemented)

2) Share dues more with chapters

3) Better membership data collection.

The top answers from board leaders:

1) More dialogue/transparency

2) Better revenue sharing

Of course, I looked in vain for any request for dissolving the chapter entities and more closely aligning chapters with National prerogatives—until I came to a survey question asked of the National board:

“List up to three areas or functions where National faces its greatest challenges or barriers in supporting Alliance Forum chapters.”

Response number two is eye-opening:

“History of autonomy since the inception of FPA; Our concern is that the current chapter structure is not one that was consciously created after the merger in 2000.  Instead, it was something that evolved and because it was not nurtured has resulted in confusion of roles/responsibilities, bickering about money and general misunderstanding of how, if we worked together, we could be a great organization.”

Staff’s response was more succinct:

“The structure itself—the Alliance Forum is not officially sanctioned by FPA.”

And tell me again, who is driving the OneFPA Network initiative?

The concluding recommendation of the consultants’ report was to disseminate the report to all chapters, to discuss potential changes.  I have not seen any evidence that this actually happened.  In fact, the FPA leadership’s initial response when I asked to see the report was a bland: What report?  I’m guessing that chapter leaders requested to see a copy, and national finally released it in response.

The FPA is soliciting feedback on its OneFPA Network initiative.  If you do have an opinion about this rather controversial initiative, you can find the request here in one of the most confusing and bizarre URLs you are likely ever to encounter:  https://fpa.informz.net/informzdataservice/onlineversion/ind/bWFpbGluZ2luc3RhbmNlaWQ9NzIyMzg4MSZzdWJzY3JpYmVyaWQ9ODI0NDEyMTAy

If you think about it, you might copy me with your responses.  And if you know of any chapter leaders who have been insistently asking for the FPA to dissolve their chapter organization and more closely align with National, and all that entails, I’d like to hear from them as well.